Walking Through Hard.

I can always tell when a blog post is churning. These threads float around in my head and I know when I sit down that they will somehow come together as I write. It feels like straining at those pictures that eventually jump out at you, and often for me I finish the blog with comfort that I desperately needed as I began to write.

This week I keep thinking about what we do when things are hard, or confusing. The world has the perspective that hard = bad, especially in this comfort-seeking society we live in.

But we as Believers in Christ know that our reality is different. For us, hard can often mean right. (Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24)

For example, let’s take the topic of having children. When it comes to children, our society seems to have the perspective that children are expensive and time-consuming, and they limit your freedom. I read an article written by Ben Stein for CNN Money, that I couldn’t believe wasn’t satire, that talked about the diminishing return of investment in children, and how that is justification for the declining birth rate in our nation. Let that sink in for a second. If you don’t think that has major implications and explains where we are as a society, you are wrong.

But it plays out on a micro level as well as a macro level. I have had people treat us like the Duggars for our 3 children, and when I’ve mentioned that we want to adopt more a person rather close to me said, “Why would you adopt when you can’t even take care of your own three?” I guess in her mind since we don’t live extravagant lives and our children don’t get everything they want, we aren’t caring for them. Like living in our home is worse than whatever orphanage those kids currently occupy. It was a bizarre moment for me.

Because a Biblical world view doesn’t see children as too hard to take on. As a Christian, valuing children based on their benefit to our lives isn’t an option. They aren’t just an investment that we can measure on a graph. A Christian values children because God told us to. We take the Bible seriously when it says “Children are a blessing and a gift” (Psalm 127:3).

I look at each of my girls and tears press against my eyes as I see their value. There is no limit to how precious they are. Yes, parenting three children is HARD. One is climbing up me now as I type this (so blame her for any and all typos). When we adopt it will be HARD. Some days, marriage is HARD. Ministry is HARD. Faith is HARD. Eating well is HARD. Friendship is HARD. Taking time for Sabbath is HARD. But that doesn’t mean any of it is wrong.

Every year there is a lesson that the Lord seems to teach me over and over. I think this year’s message is this:

Just because it is hard doesn’t mean it is wrong, or I am bad at it.

If I’ve learned anything in 25+ years of faith and 15+ years in ministry, it’s how complicated and confusing and downright hard the Christian life can be. And all the clichés about faith that I’ve heard most of my life are patently false.

God won’t give you more than you can handle. False.

God wants to bless you because He wants you to be happy. Nope.

Those are sweet ideas. They make excellent crocheted pillows. But they aren’t the Christian life.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray and sweated blood before his crucifixion.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray  before his crucifixion.

Maybe you’re like me, and things are just hard in life now. And even the options to get out of where you are seem hard. It can feel pretty lonely in that place, and pretty forgotten.

But we serve a God who gets it. He took the path through Gethsemane, He gave up the comforts of heaven, He was spit on and mocked and beaten and whipped and eventually killed.

It was hard, but it was also good. Jesus saved humanity when He faithfully walked through the hard. And he asks us to follow him, keep walking, and trust him.

Keep walking. Try to trust. Turn to Him. Sometimes that is all we can do. And I have to believe God will redeem it.

Lord, you know well I am a self-reliant, pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps kind of person. I hate to fail. I hate when things are hard. And lately, there’s been all kinds of hard. I fail daily. And I confess anger toward you sometimes over how hard things are. Sometimes I feel abandoned. But I know those feelings are not the end of the story. I know you have not forgotten us or abandoned us. Please forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted you because it’s hard. Forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted me when it is hard. I trust you. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know a way out. But I trust you. We need you – and I know that is good. I’m thankful that you never leave or forsake me. Thank you for doing the impossibly hard work of purchasing my redemption. Thank you for every single thing in our world that is hard. I know you have a purpose in every moment, and I wait for you. Please be near to us even in the hard circumstances of our lives. 

Let the light of Your face shine on us.

There is much on my heart to say these days – suddenly.  (So David, you’ll be happy to see me blogging again!  You were sweet to notice my absence).  I had an amazing dinner last night with heart friends.  It was funny, we all talked about the difficulty of recent years, and yet we all rejoiced with each other at God’s revelation of truth and our subsequent growth through that difficulty.  Both of my friends’ families are breaking through walls that have held them in – and we all rejoiced at what the Lord is doing.  I loved it.

Last night in the middle of our discussion, as we confessed the HARD things we are facing, I said to my friends, “Isn’t this harder sometimes than you expected?  Do you ever feel unprotected?”

There it was – out on the table.  The big question.  Even as I voiced the thought I was afraid.

In that moment, I was questioning our circumstances.  They are often hard to understand.  But I was also questioning the Lord.  I was, in essence, saying, “I read all of these promises in the Bible that the righteous will inherit the land while the wicked are cast off – yet I look around and that is not what I see.  It seems like the wicked are prospering.  So what’s the deal with that?  Doesn’t God care?  Shouldn’t there be some “blessing bubble” we are in that protects us from all of this since at least we are TRYING to live righteous lives?”

It’s funny to write it out – but that was my thought – I was questioning my Father, and my friends knew it.  And like the precious women they are, they didn’t judge me – they helped me see.

One friend gracefully responded, “But Jen this was promised to us.  Read the Word, things do get worse and worse until He comes.  You need to adjust your expectations and expect this.  There is mercy available – but we also need to be aware that we are in a battle.”

In that moment, I saw she was right, but I continued, “But I don’t feel attacked from the world most of the time.  I feel attacked by the church, by fellow Believers.  Isn’t that wrong?  Why do we attack each other?  Where is all of this fear and lying and division coming from in the church?”

Again she countered, “Look at Revelation. These aren’t just symbolic churches.  These are real churches.  Seven distinct churches with their doors closed to each other.  This division is prophesied.”

And suddenly, I felt the Spirit of the Lord say to my heart, “Sweet girl – the church turned against me too.  The Pharisees called for my death.  I understand your feelings of frustration.  But none of this surprises me.  Even this I can use for my glory.  I win this war in the end – so focus on me – and count even this as joy.”

Today Justin and I read Psalm 3 and 4 and quickly noted something.  David was surrounded, he was being attacked.  His life was in danger.  He was overwhelmed.  His own son was actually attacking him, trying to take his life and his throne.  The circumstances in David’s life were terrifying.  Those circumstances were real.  It was terrible.

And yet he wasn’t focused on all of that.  He says, “Many, LORD, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”  Let the light of your face shine on us.  Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.  In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD make me dwell in safety.”

Our circumstances are real and are difficult.  And the measure of my “success” in this trial isn’t the prosperity, or the promised land, or even the fulfillment of these promises that I feel are from Him.  The important thing is the light of God’s face shining on us.  It is the immeasurable joy and assurance that comes even in the midst of the storm because He is near.  I have hope today because His nearness is my good, despite all that seems to stand against me.